Saturday, July 09, 2005

Rhode Island ramble

Sorry about the lack of posts lately...Eating L.A. has been rambling around Rhode Island for the last week or so. If you haven't been to Rhode Island, you might not realize that the Ocean state has one of the highest local specialties-to-size-of-state ratios of any state.
On our first day, we started at Iggy's Doughboys for some chowder, clamcakes, snail salad and doughboys. Their excellent clamcakes are deep-fried fritters with bits of fresh clams interspersed in the batter -- sort of a New England hush puppy. Last time I was in Rhode Island I missed the snail salad so I tried it here -- this might be an acquired taste. It seems like something fishermen might have invented to get them through lean periods -- the large, tough local sea snails are sliced thin and then drowned in viniagrette to tenderize them. Perhaps in more skilled hands, the snails could be made into a good Italian seafood salad, but I have a feeling they're probably considered the lowest rung on the local seafood scale.

Top, clamcakes, below, snail salad with olives
Doughboys are basically deep-fried dough puffs covered in sugar like malassadas or beignets, probably brought by Rhode Island's Portuguese immigrants. After a few days in Rhode Island, we decided they really know how to deep fry there. Even the French fries are unfailingly crisp and golden.
Twice we visited my favorite Rhode Island restaurant, the Governor Francis Inn in Warwick. Imagine if the Smokehouse or the Tam O'Shanter specialized in lobster rolls, stuffed clams ("stuffies") and oysters on the half shell and you get the idea.

Sam tries stuffed clams
Lots of older folks, a busy bar with good beer on tap and good prices. We also had a nice chicken escarole soup, butternut squash puree and stuffed mushrooms and stuffed shrimp which rocked -- apparently the secret of the stuffing is Ritz crackers, sherry, crab and shrimp.
For our "date night" we went to Madeira in East Providence's Portuguese neighborhood. This kitchy marvel features two boats moored in a fake lagoon overlooking a waterfall, each seating two parties of four. Madeira's owners probably last visited Portugal around the same time Frere Taix's owners visited France, but it's a fun spot where waiters bring massive chateaubriand kebobs hanging on spits to carve at the table and every dish is covered in a least a pound of Portuguese potatoes, which are like decadent fat potato chips. We started with clams and chorizo in a sauce tasting mostly of tomato juice, but the clams were nice and fresh, and then I had the salt cod smothered in garlic and onions. We passed up the Mateus (no kidding!) for a Portuguese tinto (red wine) that wasn't bad.

clams and chorizo
New Englanders love coffee and ice cream, and Rhode Islanders like to combine them in coffee cabinets, the local name for a milkshake. The Newport Creamery chain calls their shakes Awful Awfuls -- they're awful good and awful big.

Sam and Sophie with their Awful Awfuls
Another popular drink is coffee milk, made with Autocrat coffee syrup. When we heard an fellow order a "coffee milk and a hot weiner, all the way," at Olneyville New York System Weiners, we knew we were very far from California. The hot weiner, which contrary to its name did not originate in New York, is a short, soft hot dog with blunt ends, covered in a meat sauce with mustard, onions and celery salt.

I'm having a New York System hot weiner
We drove up to Boston one day and had lunch at Durgin-Park in the Faneuil Hall Market Place, a 130-year old restaurant reminiscent of the Pantry or Philippe's. We had Boston baked beans, of course, baked scrod and coffee jello -- a nice dessert with a dollop of whipped cream.
On 4th of July, we drove to Connecticut to buy fireworks and stopped at the Hitching Post in Charleston on the way back. This clam shack on the main road makes a mean $12 lobster roll, and you can eat at picnic tables in a lovely flower-bedecked garden with a fish pond and an acre or so of lawn -- great for a game of catch while waiting for your order. Why don't we have any places like that in California?

Lobster roll from the Hitching Post
On our last night, after a stop at Johnson & Wales College's fascinating Culinary Archive and Diner Museum, we walked around Providence's Italian Federal Hill neighborhood and had Rhode Island-style pizza at Caserta's. The huge, thick crust rectangular pie was unlike anything I've had before, more Chicago style than anything else. At first the globs of raw-tasting sauce bothered me, but by the second piece I had surrendered happily to the excellent, spicy pepperoni and the greasy, sweet crust.
OK, I'm on a diet now, but thanks to Ann, Joey, Mischa and everyone else for being such wonderful hosts.

Archived comments:
Anonymous said...
Thanks for this! I'm from RI and I felt wistful as I read about your experiences. I hope you had a Dels' as well...
Anonymous said...
I'm from Rhodyelin.You'd be surprised; snail salad is actually wicked expensive at places like Dave's Market or Stop & Shop. So contrary to what you posted, it's not far down on the culinary ladder at all!!That hombre was right. I hope you had Del's. It's so good.Did you get a hot italian grinder too? Those things marvelous with provolone cheese...